Five years ago this past May, congressional Democrat Susan Davis, then known for being one of the most frequent junketers in the House, took off with her husband Steve on a weeklong mission costing $21,327 to the troubled North African country of Tunisia.
The tab for the conference, entitled “Political Islam: Policy Challenges for Congress,” was picked up by the Aspen Institute, as well as tax-exempt foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Henry Luce Foundation.
The 12-member congressional delegation of which Davis was part stayed at the Residence Hotel outside Tunis, described on its website as the “glamour-zen rendezvous of the Mediterranean," luxury features including a “private beach with sailing and windsurfing,” a “1500-square-meter freshwater swimming pool,” an adults-only seawater indoor pool, and “two floodlit tennis courts.”
The location for the getaway was chosen, according to its sponsors, because it was "a venue in an Islamic country convenient for participants from Islamic countries.”
Eight months later, the Jasmine Revolution, fueled by complaints of corruption, food inflation, and lack of free speech, overturned the country's longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who cultivated foreign investment at the alleged expense of political freedoms, in January 2011.
Now an aide to Davis has been back to the country, courtesy of a U.S.-government-backed think tank with reportedly close ties to American intelligence services.
Legislative assistant Annika Parks made the weeklong November 7–14 trip to Tunis and Kiev, the capital and largest city of Ukraine, the former Soviet republic and scene of ongoing confrontation between the West and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
"I work for Rep, Susan Davis, a member of the House Democracy Partnership, as her foreign policy [legislative assistant]. I've been doing a lot of work with HDP on democracy promotion issues, particularly regarding Tunisia, and this trip will give me a better perspective on what HDP's engagement looks like on the ground in our partner countries, and help me to find ways for our office to get more involved," Parks said in a disclosure document filed for the trip.
According to its website, the House Democracy Partnership "is a bipartisan, twenty-member commission of the U.S. House of Representatives that works directly with 17 partner countries around the world to support the development of effective, independent, and responsive legislative institutions.”
Funding for the trip was supplied by another U.S.-financed institution, the National Democratic Institute, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development. The institute is chaired by Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under president Bill Clinton.
According to the trip disclosure, “The National Democratic Institute facilitates programming on behalf of HDP, which complements NDI's legislative strengthening work with parliaments worldwide, including the parliaments of Ukraine and Tunisia.”
The group previously sent a delegation of five congressmembers to Kiev in June, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal report.
No itinerary was released and other details were kept hush-hush, with security reasons given as the rationale.
Total transportation expenses for Parks on her November trip were reported to be $2393, with lodging costing $1295, and meal expenses $348, along with $120 for "interpretation."
Kiev's Radisson Blu
The website of Kiev's Radisson Blu, the hotel where the delegation was housed, says "this world-class accommodation provides easy access to trendy shopping districts and a wealth of museums and attractions."
According to an addendum to the trip-reporting form, the National Democratic Institute "has been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct an assessment of the [House Democracy Partnership’s] impact."
The document adds that Parks and six other congressional staffers were "well-suited for this trip" because they are "familiar with the legislative strengthening activities undertaken by HDP and have an understanding of the regional dynamics that impact parliamentary development in both countries."
The November 23 travel disclosure filed by Parks said she met with members of parliament, "civil society leaders," and journalists "about politics and government in each country."
Last month the Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois Republican congressman Peter Roskam, current chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, was the second-most frequently-traveled member of that state's congressional delegation, with eight foreign trips to 13 countries.
His most recent foray was a trip through Nepal, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Kosovo, arranged by the partnership.
Roskam, according to the story, "also dropped in on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. He went to Israel, Turkey, Poland and twice to Ukraine, once to monitor elections, records show."